Album Review: Atoms For Peace—”AMOK”

By Marko Cindric

Eight Radiohead albums and one very successful solo project later, Thom Yorke’s songwriting continues to be permeated by a noteworthy balance of beauty and cynicism, delineated to the listener with every passing note. February 25th heralded the unveiling of AMOK, the debut album from Yorke’s latest project, Atoms for Peace—a chimera of musical talent featuring Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, R.E.M. / Beck drummer Joey Waronker, Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, and Forro in the Dark percussionist Mauro Refosco.

Album Cover

Following a steady stream of collaborations alongside musicians the likes of Burial and Flying Lotus, Yorke’s musical style has seen a visible shift towards the more experimental, electronic-based sounds found on AMOK. The tracks on this album tend to avoid straying from a familiar system, using intricate, mechanical beats as a base to support the analog synths and looping samples gliding around the Radiohead frontman’s ethereal voice. Unsurprisingly, AMOK shares many sonic properties with Thom Yorke’s debut solo record, The Eraser, for which the touring band was essentially Atoms for Peace’s current lineup.

Much like Radiohead’s most recent efforts with The King of Limbs, subtle evolution and layering are extremely prominent features on AMOK, causing many of the songs to seem slightly undercooked. The third track on the record, “Ingenue,” begins with a lone, arrhythmic, wailing synth, and eventually implements rhythmic and vocal layers. However, it fails to noticeably develop much farther beyond this point, giving it the qualities of a background melody rather than that of a leading track. “Dropped” has a particular sense of urgency not present anywhere else on the album, though its restriction to only a few melodic patterns (like on many other songs on AMOK) prevents it from truly taking hold in cerebral foreground. In contrast, “Unless,” the fifth track on the album, contains a relatively simple vocal line but features one of the most prominent buildup-based, shape-changing models on the entire album. Another shining star is AMOK’s second single, “Judge Jury and Executioner,” a guitar ballad with a powerful and catchy rhythmic section. Being the shortest song on the album—clocking in at just under three and a half minutes—“Judge Jury and Executioner” avoids sounding washed out by its conclusion, a challenge to which many of its fellow tracks fall prey. A majority of the songs, be it through static repetition or even the possession of similar properties to other AMOK tracks, simply fade into the back of my mind and avoid holding my attention for very long.

While AMOK is a welcome treat to fans of The Kings of Limbs and The Eraser, it favours using sounds familiar to both albums and avoids trying too hard to be different; in fact, a shuffle of both albums combined would prove it next to impossible to differentiate the origin of the material. Thom Yorke and friends maintain a pretty high degree of quality when it comes to album releases, but AMOK suggests that perhaps it’s time to push the envelope a little further.

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